BEIRUT: Mental health disorders are a social problem that is not being adequately addressed, a top official from the Health Ministry said Thursday.
Dr. Walid Ammar, the director general of the Health Ministry, was speaking during the opening ceremony two-day international congress entitled “Burning Issues in Psychiatry” held for the first time in the Middle East and tackling this year bipolar and temperament disorders was launched Thursday.
“Mental health disorders represent a heavy social burden in our country … but remain in most cases untreated if ever recognized or properly diagnosed,” he said.
“Mental health is not a luxury. It should be made available, accessible and affordable to everyone,” Ammar said, lamenting that mental disorders were undertreated because they are often not diagnosed correctly. He said this resulted from factors such as lack of awareness and affordability of private services, stigma, “and most of all shortage of psychiatrists and lack of training of other medical practitioners.”
Ammar said a final draft law on the care and protection of mentally ill patients was being studied by the Cabinet. “Once issued, this law [will] finally put an end to the ‘Ottoman Law on Hospitals for the Insane,’” he said.
Elie Karam, founder of the mental health research organization IDRAAC and chairman of the department of psychiatry and clinical psychology at Saint George hospital, said bipolarity was chosen as the topic of the congress since “the coming years will undoubtedly see that mood disorders are wider and shape our lives in more ways than we suspected.”
He stressed the need for “a more personalized approach in mental health” and hoped the congress would “help to enrich knowledge in this field and promote our capacity to confront this kind of psychological disorders in Lebanon and Arab countries, and help those who suffer from them to lead better lives.”
Joudy Bahous, from the Balamand University’s faculty of medicine, said that although according to the World Health Organization one in every four people needs special mental medical care at some point in their life, most countries allocate no more than 2 percent of their health sector resources to mental health services.
“This put the average world expenditure on mental health at less than four dollars per person annually,” he said.
He said the conference will address several challenges related to bipolarity, the most important one being the high cost of treating mental and psychiatric illnesses, which are mostly not covered by insurance policies.
For her part, president of the Lebanese Psychological Association Leyla Dirani insisted on the key role of patient and family involvement in the treatment’s success.
Health Minister Ali Hasan Khalil, representing President Michel Sleiman, awarded the Medal of Health Merit to leading psychiatrist Hagop Akiskal, who is of Lebanese origin, “in recognition for his contribution to supporting the health sector over the course of his long career.”